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Today’s guest is New York Times bestselling fantasy author Michelle Sagara! She has published novellas, short stories, and approximately 30 novels, including the books in the ongoing series The Chronicles of Elantra (beginning with Cast in Shadow), The Queen of the Dead (beginning with Silence), and The House War (beginning with The Hidden City). Oracle, the sixth book in The House War series she writes as Michelle West, will be released on May 5.

Oracle by Michelle West Cast in Flame by Michelle Sagara

I don’t write romance.

Let me say that again.

I do not write romance.


Now I’d like you to pause and consider that statement, because I’ve seen it a lot. And I’ve come to understand the ways in which it can be considered undermining—even when that’s not my intent.


Whatever else you want to say about dearauthor.com and smartbitchestrashybooks.com, I think they’ve done two incredibly invaluable things for the romance reading community. The first: they’ve de-stigmatized romance reading. The second: they’ve recognized clearly—and stated unequivocally—that romance readers drive fiction sales. They always have. Even in the ’90s, when I was first submitting fantasy, that was true. But in the ’90s, romance reading was in general a dirty secret. It was considered hugely, intellectually downmarket. You could read romance, and obviously, given sales numbers, many, many readers did, but you didn’t publicly admit it. Because people would judge.

People outside of the internet environs still do.


I don’t read a lot of romance. Before I stumbled across these sites, I didn’t read romance at all.

You may ask how it is I stumbled across these sites, and why I read them, if that’s the case. I found them in my feeds, as discussions on their various posts were linked. But I stayed because: reviews.

I like book reviews. I always have. I like reading book reviews about books I will never read. I like the construction of opinion, and the sense of the reader behind it. I used to read Locus for the reviews, not the news, back before I actually attempted to sell my first novel. Well, that and the forthcoming books list.

I had not realized that dearauthor.com had reviewed some of my books until, in my semi-annual google search, I came across a review there for one of my books. The book had been published in October, I believe – I found the review in March of the following year. I had missed the initial review posting, although I was otherwise quietly lurking and reading. I was learning about a different reading community. I’d worked in a general bookstore for years, and then in a specialty SFF bookstore for more years.

I knew very, very little about the romance genre and its readership.

I didn’t realize, for instance, that Romance required an HEA (Happily Ever After). I didn’t realize that calling a book a romance essentially promised that, if it promised no other thing. I didn’t come to most books with a sense of rigid expectation, and I was not part of the general readership.

But I learned.


The thing that impressed me most was not about the actual writing, and not, in the end, about the reading; it was the growing realization that the Romance industry—its writers, its editors—was predominantly female. That women writing Romance were actually making a much better living than most of the midlist writers in any other genre. Here was a segment of industry in which women were leaders and captains and in control, economically, of their lives.

It was, and is, a profoundly feminist and feminine work space.

As such, it has been accorded—it is still accorded—very little respect in the general polity.


One of the things that I do not seem to be able to get my head around while writing is romantic love. I understand couples. I understand relationships. But the beginning of a relationship is so different for so many people I can’t quite get a sense of that into the books I write. I am aware that this makes my books no-goers for some readers. Because even in non-romantic fantasy there is almost always a central romance or a love story.

My first four books had a very strong, central romance. But…the story, in some ways, grew out of Beauty and the Beast. Not in a way that was obvious even to me; a reader pointed it out to me and I realized: Oh. They’re right.

So in theory I am capable of this. In practice, not so much.

There is nothing worse for readers than an unbelievable, unfelt, romance. It is the worst kind of paint-by-numbers, the worst kind of character-manipulation. Doing that will not help my books in any way.

So…I read and watch and try very hard to figure out what I’m missing.

For me, Romance is hard. I could write horror or hard SF far more convincingly. But honestly? Romance and sex and desire are human. The authors I have most admired in fantasy frequently have them as strong, central pillars in their novel structures.

And I often feel that I am staring at them through a thick glass window. Reading moves me. But when I write, when I reach for character while writing, I can’t grasp it. Political motivations, yes. Almost every other emotion and reaction, yes.

Research will not give you romance.

Nonfiction reading will not give you romance.

Outlining will not give you romance.

Or at least, it won’t give it to me.


When I was fifteen, it was frequently assumed that unless you could prove your intellectual credentials and you were female, you were reading romance. It was assumed that your high school life devolved around romance. It was assumed that your shopping choices, etc., devolved around—what else?—romance. Girls were boy-crazy.

If you were not boy-crazy, it felt a lot like pressure or dismissal.

It is easy to reach a point where you’d kind of like to scream in frustration; where you want to tell people I don’t read romance or I don’t care about romance as a declaration. It’s easy to hate the entire social dimension of that particular mode, because you don’t want to be part of it. You want to play D&D. You want to read SFF and discuss Frank Herbert or Ursula Le Guin. You want to discuss the comics you’ve been reading, or the computer game you’ve just discovered. You have a headful of books and daydreams and many of those daydreams are about being a superhero, not a girlfriend or a wife.

But in point of fact, it’s not the social paradigm itself that you hate. It’s the pressure to fit in where you don’t, where you can’t, belong.

As I got older, I realized this. Daydreaming about being a superhero is not, in fact, more virtuous or more intellectual than daydreaming about being a wife or a husband or a spouse. The entire world is frequently caught up in exactly that pursuit, that negotiation. Everyone wants to be loved.

Everyone has daydreams or fantasies. Mine are still about being a superhero, for what it’s worth.


When you are a woman writing in the SFF field, many people—some of them even women—will decide that you are de facto writing romance, or paranormal romance, or books that are whatever patina-of-genre over romance. And, as if they are still in that particular mode of “my interests good, your interests infantile”, they will outright dismiss the work without, you know, actually reading any of it.

In general, I don’t argue with this because there’s no point. What readers choose to read for entertainment—when their grades do not depend on it, or their job does not depend on it—they choose for their own reasons. If someone comes into the store and says they don’t read books by women, I don’t immediately launch into an argument about why this is foolish. (Well, okay, honesty makes me state that I mostly don’t do this >.>.)

But the truth is, women who are not writing romance or romance-tinged books are caught between rocks and hard places. The people who would probably best enjoy those books are often those who give the books the side-eye. If you’re writing urban fantasy, for instance, like Kat Richardson’s, people assume you are writing books like Ilona Andrews’ (and I love her books – this is not meant to be a slam).

But people who like Ilona Andrews’ work and pick up yours expecting it to be tonally similar…are often not going to like your books. So while the theoretical reading audience is larger, in practice, you’re not actually writing what that audience is looking for.

And when you are in this position you often make it clear that you are not writing those books. You are not writing Romance. And sometimes you’re not careful about it, because you’re not thinking of all the ways in which Romance and its many, many readers are already looked down on; you’re not thinking about the way in which you suggest that Romance has … girl cooties. You aren’t thinking of the way in in which an entire industry that is economically powerful is already dismissed because the industry has … girl cooties.

But, in fact, because of the culture and its varied reactions and its almost gendered sense of what constitutes valid or intellectual or even plain interesting, that’s almost implied.



I don’t write romance.

I don’t understand the heart of it well enough to have it sink into the blood and bone of my fiction.

And I think, in the end, that’s not a particular strength.

Michelle SagaraMichelle writes as both Michelle Sagara and Michelle West (and in one case Michelle Sagara West, don’t ask). Her newest novel, a West novel, is Oracle, the sixth book in the House War series. She can be found on the web at http://michellesagara.com, on twitter as @msagara, and on Facebook as Michelle Sagara.

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Today’s guest is Wendy from The BiblioSanctum! She—along with her co-bloggers Mogsy and Tiara—runs an excellent site mainly focused on speculative fiction and graphic novels. There are a lot of great reviews, interviews, and discussions at The BiblioSanctum, and I especially appreciate the list of most anticipated books by women they put together both this year and last. Wendy can also be found at Nightxade.com and Women Write About Comics.

The BiblioSanctum

Mind of Her Mind

Octavia E. Butler
Photo Credit: Joshua Trujillo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Source)

Disturbing. This is how I would describe Octavia E. Butler’s work – nay her mind – best. Perhaps I could even use the word “horrifying,” but I don’t mean it in the way you might think. Butler’s work isn’t something I could easily recommend to just anyone, and yet, I do. I feel that everyone should read at least one of her books.

She was recommended to me by a friend who sang her praises, and so I picked up the Lilith’s Brood trilogy first. In it, a small group of humans are saved from the destruction of earth by a race of aliens called the Oankali, who are genetic collectors, able to manipulate their human compatriots for the purposes of continuing both species. But not all of the rescued humans are pleased with the process, and the offspring that result suffer for it.

For a girl that grew up believing Star Wars and Star Trek to be the epitome of science fiction, where the good guys always win, and the world is black and white, this was something entirely new. Her work addresses topics like incest, slavery, racism, sexism, rape, pedophilia, religious fanaticism, addiction, hierarchy, genetic engineering, violence. Her protagonists’ experiences often made me feel uncomfortable, to say the least, not merely because she so openly broached such taboo topics, but because Butler showed me a frightening world where the scariest person was me. Butler’s writing feels as if she is holding a mirror up in front of the reader, revealing humanity at its best and at its worst and questioning your place within it. What we consider good and evil, right and wrong, is all called into question as Butler peers into our souls with her words.

I’ve read several more of her books since then and love them all. That’s not to say that none have disappointed me. Some, such as Clay’s Ark, didn’t work quite so well with me, but I don’t feel that reading it was a loss. Every book by Butler that I have read simply confirms her skill, her bravery for daring–within an industry filled with white male writers writing about white male heroes–to write stories that venture beyond the galaxies far, far away, and yet hit so close to home.

The more I read, the more I wanted to get inside this woman’s head just to see where these ideas came from. I was so pleased to find that I was not the only one when I picked up a copy of Conversations with Octavia Butler. The collection of interviews reveals an author who was passionate about writing and about exploring our society and its many, many prejudices. She was a woman who understood the value of labels and the human need to categorize everything, even though she herself was not fond of the labels that were pasted on her work. Her target audience is considered to be blacks, feminists, and science fiction fans, but even when the obvious elements of these categories are present, it is clear how far the woman transcended beyond them.

In my hunger for more insight into Butler, I read I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison, an author Butler considered her mentor. In the introduction to his short story collection, Ted Sturgeon writes that some people “live out their lives, with a consciousness more aware, more comprehending, more—well, expanded—than the rest of us.” Though he was speaking of Ellison, I can easily include Butler in this description.

Through Ellison, through interviews with others, and articles from authors she’s influenced, I gained some insight into the mind I have come to admire so, but it was not until I went back to the beginning that I truly understood what Butler’s writing was about. Bloodchild and Other Stories is a collection of short stories and essays by Butler that earned both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. Most often, writers offer an introduction to their stories, explaining their intent, but Butler deliberately left her comments to the end of each tale to avoid colouring the reader’s views. It is in these brief thoughts that I finally got to see who she was and why she loved to write.

That’s not true. I’ve always known why she loved to write. She loved to write because she loved to write. She had stories to tell and so she told them. She obviously didn’t try to sugar coat any of her themes, and while money was a necessity, I have never gotten the feeling that it was ever a priority when she sat down in front of her typewriter and set to work. Writing was her passion. And that is a beautiful thing.

But what Bloodchild’s afterwords revealed to me was that she was never writing for me. The mirror that I see when I read her work isn’t for me.

Octavia Butler wrote for herself. This was her therapy, if you will. It was her way of exploring herself and a world that she saw through pessimistic eyes. And yet, even as her protagonists struggle with all the pain and horror released from Pandora’s Box, hope still remains. When Butler couldn’t cope with a friend’s pending mortality, she wrote about it. When her mother died, she wrote about it. When she was afraid of bot flies, she wrote about it.

Now, when I read her work, I still see myself in the mirror, but I also see the author using her words to explore her own mind and the society she lived in. All this time, I’d been wishing I could look into this woman’s mind and understand how she thinks; lamenting the fact that her death stole her away from us far too soon.

But she was always there, right in front of me.

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Today’s guest is fantasy author Alison Croggon! Her novels The Gift (titled The Naming in the US) and Black Spring were each selected as a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book of the Year. The Gift, also an Aurealis nominee in two categories, is the first novel in The Books of Pellinor series. Black Spring, a fantasy inspired by Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, is an Ethel Turner Prize finalist and her most recent novel (although that will change later this year with the release of The River and The Book). In addition to being a writer of renowned speculative fiction novels, she’s a poet, critic, and theatre writer.

Black Spring by Alison Croggon The Naming by Alison Croggon

Another day, another erasure of women in the world of books. This time, Guardian writer John Mullan writes a paean to the triumph of fantasy fiction. The staggering success of the HBO series Games of Thrones, the blessing of literary respectability conferred by Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, and the rush of love that flowed in the wake of Terry Pratchett’s death, all demonstrate to Mullan that fantasy is taking its place in the “mainstream”.

In the modern tension between literary respectability and the louche pleasures of popular genres, it’s perhaps a positive thing that fantasy can be so celebrated. But at what cost? Fantasy is a myriad-headed beast, with many manifestations. Yet, despite the length of his essay, it turns out that Mullan is very limited in his definitions: a fantasy novel, what he calls AU (Alternative Universe), is mostly a Big Fat Fantasy Book. With maps.

All fantasy readers, of course, adore these kinds of books, but volumes the size of bricks and maps with exotic names are hardly the hard-and-fast definition of fantasy. Even in Mullan’s white, male-centric world there is no mention of, say, the New Weird, the hallucinogenic post-apocalyptic (and profoundly literary) Britain of M. John Harrison’s Viriconium stories or China Mieville’s Marxist fantasies, or the queered worlds of Hal Duncan. And if you take his map of the genre at face value, it seems that, except as footnoted oddities, women don’t write fantasy at all.

Mullan’s article sparked a flurry of disbelief on twitter and a hashtag – #womenwritefantasy – listing dozens of authors who happen to be both women and who write fantasy. Fantasy is, in fact, rich in women. In the Antipodes, it’s a genre that is in fact dominated by women – as Trudi Canavan shows, two thirds of Australian and New Zealand fantasy authors are female. The real question is, how is it possible, in 2015, for anyone to claim that fantasy is a genre populated almost entirely by straight, white men?

Even the authors acclaimed in the article pay their dues to the women writers who preceded and often inspired them. George RR Martin has mentioned his debt to the epic historical fiction of Dorothy Dunnett. Neil Gaiman tips his hat to the inspiration of Diana Wynne Jones. Perhaps, as in Mullan’s implied claim that Ishiguro is the first literary author to bring the respectability of “serious” literary fiction to the vulgarities of genre, it’s just a matter of bad history (Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, anyone? Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker? Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale? Ursula Le Guin? Angela Carter? Anyone? Anyone?)

Sadly, it’s a pattern that’s all too familiar. Throughout history, women have been at the centre of cultural movements, only to have their influence and works erased by the historians and critics who only assign significance to men. The Surrealists, for example, boasted a wealth of women artists – Dorothea Tanning, Elisa Breton, Greta Knutson – who were comprehensively written out of the canon in favour of the male artists, and who only recently are being restored to their rightful places in art history.

As fantasy author Elspeth Cooper said, do we really have to do this again? “Women write fantasy,” she says. “Why do we have to keep telling the world this? Why do we have yet another article that implies that the only fantasy worthy of calling out as remarkable is that written by white, straight men?”

And there’s the rub. The liberating thing about fantasy – indeed, all speculative fiction – is that it permits us to imagine realities that, however much they reflect our own, are structured differently from the worlds we know. In their languages, in their genders, in their organic forms and geographies, in their politics and their conflicts, they can be anything that their authors imagine. This is certainly one reason why women – and people of colour, such as Octavia Butler, Saladin Ahmed, Samuel R. Delaney, Nnedi Okorafor and countless others – are so attracted to the form: here we can imagine utopias and dystopias, and explore possibilities and realities that we glimpse in our quotidian world, freed into a play of imaginings.

It’s not just bad history to erase women, LGBTQ people, people of colour, from the genealogies of speculative fiction. It also effectively reduces the genre, turning a kaleidoscopic wealth of possibility into a bland whitewash. Maybe, just maybe, if that’s the price of “mainstream” recognition, it might be better to remain in the margins, where the same old boring prejudices might be easier to escape.

Alison Croggon is a poet, novelist, theatre writer and critic who lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of the acclaimed young adult fantasy series, The Books of Pellinor. The first volume, The Gift, was nominated in two categories in the Aurealis Awards for Excellence in Australian Speculative Fiction in December 2002 and named one of the Notable Books of 2003 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. The US edition, The Naming, was judged a Top Ten Teen Read of 2005 by the editors of Amazon.com. The series has since been released to critical and popular acclaim in the US, the UK, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Poland, and to date has sold more than a half a million copies in the UK and US alone. Her most recently published fantasy novel is Black Spring, released in 2012/14 in Australia, the UK, the US and Germany. It was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book of 2013 and shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature in the 2014 NSW Premiers Literary Awards.

A new novel, The River and The Book, is forthcoming with Walker Books in October 2015, and 2016 will see the international release of a new Books of Pellinor prequel, The Bone Queen.

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This week’s first guest is Memory from In the Forest of Stories! She covers a variety of fiction genres on her blog with a lot of focus on speculative fiction books. In the Forest of Stories is one of my favorite book-related sites both because of Memory’s entertaining, insightful book reviews and her taste in books. If you read this site because we share similar tastes in fiction, you should definitely check out Memory’s blog (she also loved Karin Lowachee’s Warchild)!

In the Forest of Stories

SFF comics is a broad field encompassing everything from superheroes to hard science fiction to magical time travel to secondary world fantasy. Whatever brand of speculative fiction you enjoy, you’re bound to find a comic or six that fits the bill.

Chances are, though, the vast majority of the books you’ll uncover during a casual search will be written and drawn by men.

Mainstream comics, for all its virtues, is still very much a boys’ club. Women do create comics of all sorts, and some of them enjoy such widespread acclaim that they’ve become household names among comics readers, but it can be difficult to find work by women if you simply browse at random. I recently delved into Marvel Unlimited’s archive in search of more new-to-me women to read, and I had my work cut out for me finding even a handful of female writers and pencillers. The men outnumbered them to an absurd degree.

It can be tough for the dedicated comics reader to maintain gender parity without extra effort. Branching out into non-SFF comics can help matters–be sure to check out such creators as Zeina Abirached, Lucy Knisley, Marjane Satrapi, Jillian Tamaki, and Mariko Tamaki–but the average non-directed comics binge will almost certainly contain far more dudes than ladies.

It ain’t an ideal situation, but there’s some hope for the future. Of the Big Two, Marvel has publicly stated their intention to add more female creators to their bullpen (see Sana Amanat’s answer immediately below the Women of Marvel Instagram widget in this interview), and one hopes DC will soon follow suit. Smaller comics publishers and general publishers with graphic novel divisions have also begun featuring more women creators over the last few years. And of course, women have always produced indie comics, either online or in self-published zines.

Even with these changes on the horizon, the challenge remains. You can’t read these women unless you can find them in the churning sea of dudes.

Today I want to offer up twelve women whose comics work I love, complete with the easiest ways I know of to read their books. Some of these women are gloriously well known; others may have flown under your radar. A few prominent names are curiously absent, not because I dislike them but because I haven’t read them yet. These omissions aside, I hope this list serves as a jumping-in point for those of you who’re eager to explore more comics written and/or drawn by women.


Many comics writers are also comics artists, particularly where indie comics and manga are concerned. My favourites include:

Castle Waiting Volume One Castle Waiting Volume Two
Linda Medley

Medley creates Castle Waiting, a feminist fairy tale about the stories that happen in and around the versions everyone knows. It’s very much focused on the characters’ everyday lives, with unexpected grace notes galore and plenty of intrigue surrounding everyone’s backstories. You won’t find many epic quests here; instead, bearded nuns fight for workers’ rights, mysterious young women raise their demonic babies within peaceful communities, and wicked witches turn out to have soft spots after all (even though they’ll still curse you, thanks very much).

The series is available in two gorgeous hardcover volumes from Fantagraphics. Make sure you get the Definitive Edition of Volume Two; the original release starts strong but ends abruptly due to a conflict between Medley and the publisher.

Chobits Omnibus Volume One Tokyo Babylon Volume One

Clamp is an all-female manga studio with a ton of series under their belts. (They’re also the only mangaka I’ll be spotlighting here, but I encourage you to explore the wide world of manga for a wealth of female-created stories both SFnal and non.) I’m still working my way through their extensive backlist, but so far I’ve fallen utterly in love with Chobits and Tokyo Babylon.

Chobits takes place in a near future where personal computers look like anatomically correct pretty girls. It’s a squicky premise, but fear not–Clamp interrogates the hell out of the squick and produces a wonderful story about what it means to be, and to care about, a person. You can find the English translation in eight individual volumes or two omnibi from Dark Horse.

Tokyo Babylon centres on a teenage magician who communicates with the dead in concert with his twin sister and a sexy young veterinarian who claims to have fallen in love with him. It starts out all cute and monster-of-the-week, then becomes something else entirely. You’ll find the English translation in seven individual volumes or two omnibi from Dark Horse.

Elfquest Volume OneElfquest Volume Two
Wendy Pini

I tend to think of Wendy Pini’s Elfquest (co-created with her husband, Richard; she writes and draws, he writes and edits) as the fantasy comic. It completely took over my life in the summer of 2006 and has held up well over subsequent readings. When the Wolfriders (a tribe of tiny, pointy-eared people who’ve bonded with wolves) discover they’re not the only group of elves, they undertake a quest to discover where their race came from and what else might be possible for them. It gets wicked intense as it rolls along, with plenty of SF mingled with the outwardly fantastical trappings.

Dark Horse currently holds the Elfquest license and has released two massive omnibi that collect the original quest. You can also read every pre-2014 Elfquest story for free on the official website.

Noelle Stevenson's Nimona Lumberjanes Volume One
Noelle Stevenson

Stevenson has had quite the year. Lumberjanes, her contemporary fantasy comic about female friendship (co-written with Grace Ellis and drawn by Brooke Allen) gets all the good press, and she was recently announced as the writer for Marvel’s Runaways revival (to be drawn by Sanford Greene). My personal favourite of her works is Nimona, a comic about a young shapeshifter who decides she has a bright future as a villain’s sidekick. It’s hilarious and painful by turns, and it’s deeply concerned with how society defines good and evil. Plus, there are sharks and cats and a frickin’ dragon.

Nimona will be published by HarperCollins on May 19th. Alas, the original webcomic has been removed in preparation for the print release, but you can still sample the first three chapters on Stevenson’s website. The first collected edition of Lumberjanes is now out from Boom Studios, with twelve individual issues also available. The first ten of these are on Scribd (free for the first two months; $8.99 per month thereafter for unlimited comics, audiobooks, and ebooks from a ton of different publishers). The first issue of Runaways drops in May.

Rachel Hartman's Amy Unbounded
Rachel Hartman

Y’all know Rachel Hartman as the author of Seraphina and Shadow Scale, her phenomenally popular YA novels, but you may be unaware she used to create children’s minicomics in the same setting. Amy Unbounded follows the feminist adventures of nine-year-old Amy, who hobnobs with an assortment of farmers, merchants, and dragons as she navigates life as a girl in a society that is often actively hostile to women. It’s cute as you please and levity abounds, but it can also be extraordinarily painful as Amy and her friends run up against difficult social realities.

It ranks among my favourite comics ever. I love it a bit more every time I revisit it.

One trade collection (Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming) was released and is now sadly out of print, though there seem to be a fair few copies floating around out there. I live in hope the entire series will someday get a digital release so I can buy the hell out of it and encourage everyone I know to do the same.

Moomin, Book One Moomin, Book Two
Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson’s Moomins are children’s lit icons with a host of books, an assortment of animated adventures, and a theme park to their credit. (Yes! A theme park!) I first met them through Jansson’s comic strip, though, and it’s the comics I always trot out when it’s time to recommend the Moomins to all and sundry.

So, every second week.

Jansson’s newspaper strip ran for almost twenty years, and it’s gold. The Moomins are a family of hippo-like people who negotiate the world from a position of enthusiasm and inclusiveness. Jansson uses them to say lots of socialist things, as well as a great deal about kindness and the importance of forging connections, but please believe me when I say it’s not saccharine. It’s adorable and touching and really rather disruptive in the values it espouses.

From an artistic standpoint, I’m totally in love with Jansson’s panel divisions. She often uses tall, thin items relevant to each storyline to divide each snippet of story into its component parts. A forest tale might feature birch saplings between each panel, while a domestic scene could use Moominmama’s mop to divvy things up. It’s a lovely, creative touch.

Drawn & Quarterly has released five volumes of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip as oversize hardcovers. They look great on a shelf, assuming you’ve got the space for them.

Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg ClankAgatha Heterodyne and the Siege of Mechanicsburg
Kaja Foglio

Professor Kaja Foglio writes and draws Girl Genius, a long running webcomic, in concert with her husband, Professor Phil Foglio. The series purports to be a collection of textbooks for their Transylvania Polytechnic University course on Agatha Heterodyne, a mechanical genius who is also the secret heir to the most notorious noble house in Europe. As Agatha’s adventures unfold, she learns to harness her brilliance to produce mechanical marvels the likes of which Europe has never seen–but certain factions are determined to stop her before she can disrupt the status quo.

The series starts off strong and soon becomes painfully awesome. Agatha is a fabulous heroine, and the secondary characters all have depth and strong motivations. Even the bad guys are complex, fully realized people with understandable goals.

You can read Girl Genius for free online, with new pages added every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Complete volumes are also available for purchase in print or PDF through the Foglios’ online store.


Of course, not all comics creators are artists. The following women write awesome material:

Captain Marvel Series Two Volume OnePretty Deadly Volume One
Kelly Sue DeConnick

I know you’ve heard of Kelly Sue DeConnick. She’s one of the hottest writers out there right now, with a well-regarded run on Captain Marvel and two creator-owned titles: Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet.

Captain Marvel (drawn by several different artists, including Emma Rios) is the obvious place to start. DeConnick imbues Carol Danvers and her tight-knit group of friends and accomplices with as much personality as one could wish. It’s immediately obvious that these people truly care about one another and are willing to go to great lengths in each other’s service. They’re what really makes the book shine, though of course there’s also lots of time travel and superheroic peril. Marvel has released the series in four collected editions to date. The entire 2012 run and the first seven issues of the 2014 run are also available on Marvel Unlimited ($9.99 per month for as many six-months-or-older Marvel comics as you can cram into your eyeballs). Make sure you’re reading the stuff by DeConnick; the older Captain Marvel series are by different writers and feature different characters who used the name before Carol took it over.

Pretty Deadly (a weird Western with artist Emma Rios) and Bitch Planet (a riff on the women in prison sci-fi exploitation genre with artist Valentine DeLandro) have also garnered rave reviews. I’ve read and enjoyed the first issue of Bitch Planet, but I haven’t yet got my hands on Pretty Deadly. The first collected edition of Pretty Deadly is now available from Image Comics, as are the first four issues of Bitch Planet.

X-23 Volume OnePromo poster for Monstress
Marjorie Liu

I first encountered Marjorie Liu in her guise as an urban fantasy author. More recently, I’ve come to know her as a comics writer of no small talent.

Liu has mostly worked for Marvel so far. Nyx: No Way Home, a comic about a ragtag group of runaway mutants who become a family, served as my entry point into her work, but X-23 is the book I rave about. It’s the story of Laura Kinney, a young, female clone of Wolverine who was raised to be the ultimate, unthinking weapon and must now discover how to live in a world where she can just be a person. At its best, X-23 is a deeply affecting look at found families and personal discovery through the eyes of someone without the social tools to navigate these perils in the expected fashion.

Both Nyx and X-23 are available as collected editions or through Marvel Unlimited. The first arc of X-23 is also on Scribd. Make sure you’ve got Liu’s titles in hand; both books started with miniseries by other creators.

Liu also penned the last four arcs of Astonishing X-Men–she was behind Northstar’s highly publicized wedding–but I haven’t quite made my way to her run yet. A lot of dude-authored stuff precedes it, and I’m always reluctant to leap into the middle of a series. If you’re up for that sort of thing and want to go straight to Liu’s work, you can find it starting with Volume 10: Northstar, or #48 if you’re reading through Marvel Unlimited.

Moving away from Marvel, Liu and artist Sana Takeda (with whom she worked on the latter half of X-23) are set to release their first creator-owned title, Monstress, through Image starting this summer. I can’t wait.

Cover of MysticCover of Ms Marvel Volume One
G. Willow Wilson

As was the case with Marjorie Liu, I first heard of G. Willow Wilson in conjunction with her debut novel, Alif the Unseen. In the year or so since she came on my radar, she’s risen to prominence as the writer behind Ms Marvel, the first mainstream superhero title with a Muslim lead.

Ms Marvel–aka, Kamala Khan–is a Muslim girl of Pakistani descent raised in New Jersey. She wants to do right by her family and their traditions, but she’s also desperate to fit in at her clique-ridden high school. It becomes a hell of a lot harder to succeed at either goal when she’s exposed to Terrigen mists and becomes a superhero capable of reshaping her body on a molecular level. With a secret identity to protect and slew of wrongs to right, Kamala finds herself in unintentional conflict with just about everything. Two collected editions are available now, with the first eight issues also up on Marvel Unlimited. Make sure you’re reading Wilson’s run; the earlier Ms Marvel series are by different writers and feature Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel) under her former code name.

Wilson also wrote Mystic, an excellent secondary world fantasy miniseries about two orphan girls who embrace separate magical destinies that put them at odds. Few people I mention it to have ever heard of it, so I talk it up at every opportunity. It, too, is available on Marvel Unlimited.


By the same extension, not all comics creators are writers. Here are two of my favourite female comics artists:

Cover of Saga Volume OneCover of Mystery Society trade collection
Fiona Staples

Fiona Staples is the co-creator (with writer Brian K. Vaughan) of Saga, my current favouritest comic EVAR, in which two former soldiers from opposite sides of a galaxy-spanning war shack up and struggle to keep their daughter safe from the assortment of freelancers and governmental officials determined to hunt them down. Staples handles every visual element: initial character and world designs, pencils and inks (or the digital equivalent, rather), colours, and lettering. Her work is accessible, attractive, and often brutal, with a strong sense of humour woven throughout. I’ll never be over King Robot’s head. Never.

You can find the series in four collected editions from Image Comics, with more to come.

Staples is also the artist behind Mystery Society (with writer Steve Niles). This short-lived series centres on a young couple who acquires a fortune and decides to pour it all into their lifelong dream: paranormal investigations. It’s a lot of fun and works well as a miniseries, but there’s enough unexplored setup that I do wish there’d been more of it. Niles has released at least one more piece of the puzzle, but Staples is no longer attached to the project (presumably because she’s busy Sagaing it up). A trade collection is available from IDW Publishing, and the whole thing is on Scribd.

Image of Kate Bishop, the best superheroic archer everImage of Black Canary
Annie Wu

Last but no means least, we have Annie Wu, who came to my attention through her work on Hawkeye (written by Matt Fraction). Wu drew the bulk of Volume 3: L.A. Woman, which is my favourite volume in a strong series. Hotshot archer Kate Bishop (light of my heart, breath in my lungs) heads out to L.A. for a summer away from superheroic drama but instead finds herself targeted by a supervillain who steals all her money and leaves Kate no choice but to become a plucky private detective. Awesomeness ensues. Ignore it if you hate awesome women doing awesome things; otherwise, read it ASAP (but maybe consider reading the first two volumes ahead of it). It’s available in a collected edition, or all the relevant issues (the Annual, plus #s 14, 16, 18, and 20) are on Marvel Unlimited.

Wu has also been announced as the artist for DC’s forthcoming Black Canary (written by Brenden Fletcher). You’ve probably noticed I don’t know from DC, but you can bet I’ll quit procrastinating and delve into their catalogue once this title hits stands this June.

These are the twelve women I talk up all the time, but they’re far from the only exceptional female comics creators out there. Please feel free to recommend your own favourites in the comments!

Women in SF&F Month Banner

There were some great recommendations and discussions thanks to last week’s guests! Before announcing the next week of guest posts, here’s a quick overview of what happened last week in case you missed anything:

Upcoming Guests: April 13 – 17

Time to announce the guests for the third week of April! They are:


April 13: Memory (In the Forest of Stories)
April 14: Alison Croggon (The Books of Pellinor, Black Spring)
April 15: Wendy (The BiblioSanctum)
April 16: Michelle Sagara (Chronicles of Elantra, The House War)
April 17: Lisa (Over the Effing Rainbow)

Women in SF&F Month Banner

For Women in SF&F Month 2013, Renay from Lady Business came up with the idea of compiling a list of recommended speculative fiction books by women. (You can read more about this project in a few different posts written by Renay: 2013, 2014, and 2015.) During that year’s event, she asked readers to submit up to 10 of their favorite SFF books by women to create a list of recommendations. The result was a list of over 800 individual books, many recommended by multiple people (the number of recommendations for each book can be seen on the current list). Last year, we accepted more submissions and the list grew to include over 1,000 titles!

We’re accepting more submissions of favorite individual SFF books by women throughout this month so we can continue to expand this list. So far, we have almost 500 new submissions to add to the list, but the more people who recommend a few of their favorite books, the better the list will be!

Big List of Fantasy and Sci-Fi Books by Women

In today’s giveaway, the winner gets to choose one book from this list of fantasy and science fiction books by women as the prize. This book must be available for purchase through The Book Depository for $20 or less (in US dollars). Anyone who lives in a country eligible for free shipping from The Book Depository can enter this giveaway. If you’d like to enter, check out the list, see what looks interesting, and if you haven’t already this year, maybe even submit some of your own favorite SFF books by women while you’re over there!

As a starting point, here are the books on the list that have been recommended the most:

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn has been submitted as a favorite book 14 times.

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones have each been recommended by 15 people.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner have each been submitted as a favorite book 16 times.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

17 people recommend To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke has been submitted as a favorite 19 times.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

Each of these 3 books have been recommended by 22 people: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin, Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

Tied for the most recommendations at 24 submissions each are Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold and Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J. K. Rowling.


Note: In some cases, these may have been recommendations for series since several entries were for entire series instead of individual books, especially before the current system of using Goodreads to search for titles. In those cases, they were added as recommendations for the first book in that series since that’s where new readers would most likely want to start.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Readers’ Recommendations Giveaway” and the book of your choice. One entry per household and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from a country that is on the list of those with free shipping from The Book Depository are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Sunday, April 26. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a mailing address).

The winner can choose one book from the list as the prize, but this book must be available for purchase from The Book Depository for $20 or less (in US currency).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.